The present study focuses on the question whether the Russophone population in Estonia will remain a relatively diffuse assemblage of individuals with some similar features and interests, or will it develop into a collective subject, an ethnic group, which is characterised by a distinct group self-awareness and collective behavioural strategies with relation to the Estonian state and the Estonians. The previous analyses have paid more attention to the relative deprivation and ambiguous political loyalty of the Russophone population. Collective mobilisation has been regarded as a possible response to the political exclusion. The conceptual starting point of the present study is that collective self-concept can be formed when the members of a community share certain symbols, are united with common meaningful space, which enables them to communicate their experiences and desires (Anderson, 1983; Cohen, 1985). The empirical premise of the study proceeds from the notion of temporal continuity of Estonian language serving as the central factor in the reproduction of the Estonian ethnic identity. This reflects for example in the strategies of language choice by the Estonians in direct communication (Bourhis, 1979). Also, Estonian legislation de facto rests exclusively on the premise of language and not on nativity. The study raises a thesis that because of the linguistic diversity of Estonian society, there is a possibility that a new collective identity of those Russophone residents who had defined themselves as Soviet citizens may emerge as an exclusive cultural group. In other words, the imperial national identity can be transformed into an ethnic identity that is based on the perception and communication of cultural distinctiveness.
The publications that serve as the basis of this dissertation deal with the instrumental and symbolic significance of Estonian and Russian in the intergroup and intragroup interaction, linguistic behavioural strategies, and the relations between language use and identity in Estonian society.
From the methodological point of view the study can be divided into two parts. The main theses concerning the existence and distribution of the studied phenomena were advanced on the basis of a standardised survey of a representative sample of the Russophone urban population in Estonia. Qualitative research methods were used in order to understand the phenomena and processes claimed to be the basis of the surveys. The aim was to collect information about the processes of communication - linguistic behavioural strategies and the significance ascribed to the latter by participants in the situations - in an authentic form, in situ. In statistical terms these samples are non-representative, as the task was not to describe the scope or distribution of the phenomenon but an analysis of the ongoing microprocesses.
The thesis consists of the
following studies (see the list of original publications):
provides an overview of the political context of the choice of
individual or collective strategies facing the Russophone population
in Estonia. It analyses the intragroup differentiation of the
Russophone population and its relations with the Estonians. The
analysis is based on the results of a standardised survey that
was conducted by a number of researchers using a statistically
representative sample of the adult population of Estonia, including
an original study by the author of this dissertation in 1995.
Agreeing with David Laitin (Laitin, 1996a: 20-23, Laitin, 1996b),
the authors emphasise the significance of the problems that are
related to the appreciation and acquisition of the Estonian language
in the realisation of the possible development scenarios of Estonian
society. The primary issue is the atomisation of the relationship
state-individual versus the mobilisation of group strategies.
The analysis determined the central objective of further research.
Will the appreciation of the Estonian language, its acquisition
and/or usage strategies refer to the beginning of intragroup interpersonal
'assimilative competition'? Or is there some readiness to generate
a collective resource on the basis of the linguistic distinction
that would serve as a basis for the restoration of the positive
self-esteem and the demand for special treatment?
analyses changes in the convictions and linguistic strategies
that are related to the Estonian language from 1990 to 1997. Following
the theory of John Edwards about the integrative (symbolic) and
instrumental (communicative) roles of language in society, the
aim of the study was to explore the instrumental and symbolic
value of Estonian for the Russophone population. The study also
aimed at identifying the changes and finding out how a more general
evaluation of the language is related to linguistic behavioural
strategies. The analysis is based on a comparative poll of 15-to-40-year-old
Russophone urban dwellers in 1995 and 1997. The resulting thesis
is that the instrumental value of the Estonian language has increased
while its integrative value has decreased. The symbolic and instrumental
roles of language are interrelated in society, and they compensate
each other. Consequently, the Russian language may have undergone
the opposite process - some decrease of its instrumental role
may have been accompanied by an increase in the awareness of its
symbolic value for the Russophone population.
Study III focuses on checking the likelihood of David Laitin's scenario of 'competitive assimilation' or the 'cascade effect' followed by a possible identity shift. The analysis is based on the 1997 survey of 15-to-40-year-old Russophone urban dwellers. The analysis indicated that there is little ground to expect a more intense use of Estonian than before in the near future. For Russian speakers Estonian-language communication is restricted to certain spheres and groups of people (e.g. school, workplace).
The second part of the article
discussed the impact of Estonian-language use on one's identity.
A comparative test was conducted to establish the impact of language
use and other factors on one's ethnic or cultural self-categorisation
(Russian-centred identity) and on one's civic or territorial self-categorisation
(Estonian-centred identity). It appeared that the use of Estonian/Russian
is an important factor in the formation of the identification
mechanism in comparison with age, citizenship, educational orientation,
homeland identity, and other features. This study enables us to
make the following claim. As Estonian society is governed by clear-cut
symbolic borders that are established by the language, then the
emergence of a double identity (Berry, 1992), which would correspond
to one's instrumental skills, is inhibited. More frequent language
use would rather make the need to reach the 'final' self-determination
The aim of Study IV
was to specify a circumstance that was revealed in Study III.
Namely, the school is a rather 'closed' sphere, as far as the
use of Estonian is concerned. The communicative experience that
is acquired there is not extended to the other spheres. Using
the method of conversational analysis, we checked the following
hypothesis. It is likely that the linguistic experience that one
can gain (only) at school may not motivate the Russophone youngsters
well enough to sustain spontaneous everyday communication with
their Estonian peers because they have no command of the communication
strategies of that foreign language. The hypothesis was confirmed
on the basis of the examples analysed. The study enables us to
make the following generalisation. The macrolevel conditions of
a society, e.g. the educational system and the decades-long tradition
of the two communities to live by themselves, do not create the
prerequisites or social pressure that are necessary for the development
of communicative competence in the course of more frequent (forced)
Study V deals with the linguistic strategies of variously aged Russian youngsters with various language skills who attended Estonian-language schools. The study proceeded from Laitin's claim that it is the long-term strategies of the Russian families in the planning of the education of their children that forms the key issue in the choice between collective versus individual strategies. The analysis is based on non-standardised personal interviews with Russian children and youngsters who attend Estonian-language schools. The results confirmed the claim that an increase in the instrumental significance of Estonian is accompanied by an increase in the role of Russian as a marker of group-belonging manifestation and the intergroup symbolic border. It is especially true about the consciousness of those people who use Estonian on a regular basis and who spend most of their time in the environment where Estonian culture predominates. The study provided substantial additional proof to the claims made in the dissertation. The multiethnic classes in Estonian school can be considered a quasi-experimental model of the future. We can assuming that the state is going to pay more attention to education as the central factor that shapes the cultural homogeneity of society (Gellner, 1983).
Based on the studies, the
dissertation concludes that there exists an important prerequisite
for the emergence of a collective identity of the Russophone population
on the basis of ethnic and cultural features - the linguistic
distinction between the two groups in the long-term perspective.
Its symbolic significance as a marker of group belonging or social
role is reproduced on a daily basis in mutual interaction.
The main conclusions of this
dissertation are the following:
1. The role of the Estonian
language in society has to be examined in two separate dimensions.
The instrumental value of the language is expressed in the language
requirement as an economic and political instrument for the establishment
of the individual-state relationship and the (non-)recognition
of this requirement. The symbolic value of the language is established
in the interaction between two groups - the Estonians and the
Russophone population. The acceptance of Estonian as a social
norm is ambivalent - it actually means a choice between the competition
of the group members and the possibility to convert the language
into an intragroup resource (which would make it possible to demand
special treatment). This choice determines whether the collective
or individual strategies will be adopted with regard to the Estonian
state and the Estonians. In fact, he Russophone population in
Estonia has not made this choice as yet (Study I).
2. The Russophone population
is beginning to realise the symbolic value of the Russian language
as the basis for a common identity and is going to use it in communication
as a socially significant group distinction (Studies II, III
2.1. The choice of language
for communication with the other group (Estonians or speakers
of Russian respectively) is a clear-cut manifestation of one's
group belonging; it serves as a means to re-establish the (historical)
symbolic boundary between the two groups (Studies III and
2.2.1. The intensity
of Estonian language use is an important factor inshaping the
self-identification mechanism in comparison with such indicators
as citizenship, educational orientation, and patriotic feelings.
The self-identification of the persons who communicate more frequently
in Estonian gets the more diffuse on the imaginary Russian - non-Estonian
scale, the more frequently these persons use Estonian when talking
to Estonians (Study III).
2.1.2. Persons who have
an active command of Estonian prefer to address their Estonian
partners in Estonian or on certain occasions also in Russian.
However, they try to avoid intermittent (functional, purpose-based)
code switching between Estonian and Russian (Studies III, IV
3. The symbolic and instrumental
functions of Estonian and Russian are mutually related in Estonian
society on a compensatory basis with the purpose of securing one's
group distinction. In case the instrumental function of Estonian
decreases because the corresponding function of Russian has increased,
the symbolic function of Estonian as an indicator group belonging
will increase, too. And, reversely, an increase in the instrumental
function of Estonian will be accompanied by an increase in the
symbolic role of Russian for the Russophone population (Study
II, III and V):
3.1. The symbolic value
ascribed to the Estonian language by the Russophone population
rose at the beginning of the transitional period, but it has dropped
now. At the same time, its instrumental value has remained rather
high (Study II and III).
3.2. The Russian youngsters
who study in the Estonian-language environment work out their
own strategies for communication in various situations and with
different partners. The choice of the language of communication
is primarily determined by the social role of the partner. They
would try to avoid, however, repeated functional code switching
during the conversation (including the interpreting function in
a mixed Estonian-Russian company) (Study V).
4. The linguistic distinction
between the two groups will remain in a longer perspective. There
will be no linguistic assimilation (Studies II, III, IV and
4.1. For the majority
of Russophone residents the use of Estonian is restricted to certain
spheres and linguistic groups such as one's workplace or school.
They do not extend the gained experience to other linguistic groups;
instead, they switch to Russian (Studies II and III).
4.2. The development
of communicative competence depends on the existence of the relevant
linguistic groups in the private sphere such as friends and acquaintances.
Thus, it depends on the experience of spontaneous everyday conversation,
which is an area of linguistic competence that is difficult to
master (Studies III and IV).
4.3. School-based linguistic
competence is insufficient for the Russian-speak-ing youngsters
to gradually develop their communicative experience in various
social spheres through interaction with Estonians (partly) in
Estonian (Study IV). Therefore, the change in the scheme
how Estonians and Russophone residents communicate with each other
necessitates a revision of the language-teaching paradigms, which
would, in fact, be a long-term process.
5. There exists an important
prerequisite for the emergence of a collective identity of the
Russophone population on the basis of ethnic and cultural features
- the linguistic distinction between the two groups in the long-term
perspective. Its symbolic content as an indicator of group belonging
or social role is reproduced on a daily basis in mutual interaction
(Studies II, III, IV and V).
In conclusion, the current study joins into the boarder, interdisciplinary discussion about the formation of collective identity among Russophone population of Estonia with following argumentation:
On the one hand, the linguistic
prescription of the political context, and, on the other hand,
the established patterns of intergroup interaction bring into
the consciousness of the Russophone population the role of the
common language of communication as a symbol of group exclusiveness.
Citizenship and other laws amplify this process, causing the dilemma
whether one should overcome one's linguistic distinction when
competing with others on an individual basis or use it as a common
resource. Therefore, the linguistic diversity between the two
groups, the symbolic significance of which is reproduced in the
interaction between the two groups as an indicator of the belonging
or role of the speaker, is likely to remain in the longer perspective.
It will serve as a prerequisite for the development of the collective
self-consciousness of the Russophone population as an ethnically
and culturally exclusive group.